Telling people you have anxiety is surprisingly difficult. You’d think it would be useful or reassuring to have an explanation for your strange behaviours or your quiet moods but instead it feels like you’re giving someone permission to change their perception of you. Some people begin over compensating for you, giving you sideways ‘are you okay’ glances when someone refers to you as a stress head. I don’t want it to change people’s opinions of me so much as to realise that my strange moods and my over thinking is not so much a reflection on them as it is a reflection on my own hugely irrational brain.
There are others who try and relate for the sake of relating. Unfortunately people often label themselves with anxiety without any form of diagnosis and this can eventually result in anxiety being taken far less seriously as a whole. So when I say ‘I have moderate generalized and social anxiety’, I so often hear reflected back at me ‘I’m socially anxious too’. Then they’ll launch into some explanation of how they feel awkward when they first meet new people or how they always babble and say silly things. The problem is that my ‘silly’ stories tend to involve that one time I was an hour late to a party because I made my step dad drive me round and round the block as I felt I physically couldn’t get out of the car and face the people I go to school with every day. That kind of story isn’t met with relatability and laughter so much as it is met with concerned frowns and uncomfortable silence.
When I tell people I have anxiety, I would rather it create a feeling of comfort instead of putting people on edge around me. I hate to make people feel like they’re walking on egg shells, to leave them thinking that I am so fragile that one wrong comment could send me into frenzy. When people think anxiety, they don’t really think me. I am amazingly good at masking it. The stereotypical image is one of a shy girl who sits in the corner, doesn’t talk very much and frequently bursts into tears. It’s true that this often is someone with anxiety but I am in many ways the opposite of this. I could count the amount of times I have cried in front of others on one hand, my demeanor is usually excitable and bubbly, I often get told to turn my volume down (by a long way) and I have more friends than most people. And yet, I can’t go to sleep without checking every part of my room and making sure 4 of my curtain rings pass a certain point, I have days where I convince myself that I am an annoyance to everyone around me, I can over think one sentence or offhand comment for several days.
Anxiety is generally viewed as a pretty bad thing, but when it’s so ingrained in your personality it’s hard to completely see it that way. Sure, most of the time it’s a real pain and obstruction but a lot of my anxiety stems from a really over active imagination. Without this over active imagination I wouldn’t be who I am. I wouldn’t love writing bizarre poems and stories, I wouldn’t have vivid daydreams to wander through in mind numbingly dull lessons or on lonely train journeys. Despite all its faults (and there are many), my brain is a pretty good place to be. People have a habit of assuming that anxiety and depression are one and the same and while there are many overlaps that isn’t the case. I’m very anxious and I have low moods from time to time but mostly I’m a very happy person so people ‘hoping I feel better soon’ can be a bit strange.
So the moral of the story (or more accurately, the disjointed ramble), when someone tells you they have anxiety try not to assume things about it. Let them tell you about it if they want to without trying to put words in their mouth, be empathetic but don’t immediately jump to being sympathetic because maybe its not so bad, more just different. Tell them about your experiences if you want but don’t try and out do them. Most of all, remember that the happiest, most confident people, can have an entirely different, far more vulnerable side.